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FROM THE DIRECTORS DESK
Greetings from PACSA
As we are finalising this newsletter the public and media space is dominated by two extremely important issues facing South Africa: the political fall-out from the Constitutional Court ruling that the president and parliament has failed in their constitutional obligations and its implication for our democratic governance; and secondly, the increasing spikes in food prices, as result of the drought impacting large parts of the country, and the resultant financial pressures on households.
Both of these issues impact directly on PACSA’s work and the articles included in this newsletter makes reference to this. We hope that you find these articles informative and that you gain some insight into PACSA’s work for social change. We also invite you the reader to engage with us on any of the issues contained in this newsletter.
Reflecting on the changing nature of our context and who we are and how we act in this context is a regular feature of PACSA’s organisational learning rhythm. In early March we spend two days on such reflection and were joined on the first day by Ariane Gruszczynski and Anke Schünemann from Bread for the World, one of our partner organisations. Two case studies were presented as part of our action-reflection. One case dealt with PACSA’s practise in working with local government and the other case addressed the difficult question of how an NGO should act in spaces designed to surface the voices of community groups.
35 young people from the Eastwood suburb in Pietermaritzburg were hosted by Source of Hope Youth Foundation, a PACSA community partner, at a workshop which focussed on youth employability, entrepreneurship and alternatives in the world of work. The objective of the workshop was get a conversation going amongst young people in the Eastwood community on the reality of youth unemployment which stands at over 65% of young people of working age and how young people can assist each other to create their own livelihood and work.
Over the past month, in addition to the numerous media engagements, we made presentations on food price affordability at a seminar organised by the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) at the University of the Western Cape; at the Association for Dietetics in SA conference in Durban; and at the OXFAM SA drought research workshop hosted by the Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA) in Pietermaritzburg.
PACSA staff and members joined a group of concerned citizens who picketted on one of Pietermaritzburg’s main streets calling for greater political accountability on the part of President Zuma and the ANC in the light of the Constitutional Court ruling that the president and parliament had violated the constitution in the Nkandla saga.
Almut and Bernd Schulteiss bid farewell after 8 years working in PACSA. They were seconded by AGEH-Germany and Misereor and were housed in PACSA. Almut focussed on managing diversity and multicultural education youth events at a national level and supported the emergence of an informal network of Youth Organisations in South Africa from 2011 onwards. This network has since been registered as and NPO under the name of the South African Youth Leaders Network (http://www.sayln.org.za)
The cost of the PACSA food basket increased by 14.5% (R237) year-on-year, from R1 632.85 in March 2015 to R1 869.39 in March 2016. The impact of the drought on the food baskets of low-income households emerged strongly from November 2015: over the last five months food price inflation increased by 13.4% or R221 (see Figure 1).
SA’S investment rating will be cut to junk status in 2016, says François Conradie, head of research at NKC African Economics. However, this won’t be the biggest danger to the economy this year. The crippling food prices, increased because of one of the worst droughts on record, should be greater cause for concern, he says. The drought has already caused large spikes in food prices. A food basket survey by the Markets & Economic Research Centre shows prices rose by 8.7% between December 2014 and December 2015, exceeding inflation. The same effects were seen in the baskets of low-income households in November 2015, with month-on-month increases averaging 4.47% through to February 2016, according to the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action, an NGO that closely tracks and publishes a monthly index of prices of a basic basket of goods.
Read the full article published in Financial Mail on 10 March 2016 at http://www.financialmail.co.za/fmfox/2016/03/10/food-prices-intensified-poverty
The ink on Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s Budget 2016 hardly had time to dry before food price inflation wholly undermined the increases he gave to social grants. At the time of the budget, critical economists such as Dick Forslund pointed out that increases in everything from pensions to child grants lagged behind the official level of inflation. Now the authoritative Pietermaritzburg Agency for Social Development (Pacsa) has noted.
Read the full article published in Fin24 on 3 March 2016 at http://www.fin24.com/Economy/inflation-cancels-grant-increases-before-implemented-20160303
South African society’s conflict with a mainstay of the country’s corporate economy – resource extraction – is permanently on display in the platinum, gold and coalfields in the north and north-east of the country...The latest incident, which claimed the life of a leading anti-mining activist, comes as poorer South Africans feel the effects of soaring food, transport and electricity prices. The misery and anger is compounded by the fact that the government has been shrinking state welfare grants – not in nominal terms, but after adjustment for the cost of living...setting aside ubiquitous corruption, government’s two major economic policy weaknesses are excessive fiscal stinginess for the poor, combined with intensified state investment in mining-supportive infrastructure.
Read the full article published in Timeslive on 29 March 2016 at http://www.timeslive.co.za/sundaytimes/opinion/2016/03/29/Local-anger-is-rising-against-South-Africa%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%98resource-curse%E2%80%99’
Despite today typically being one on which people play practical jokes on each other and behave foolishly, South Africans are not laughing. This is according to DebtBusters, which notes there are many factors weighing on South Africans' pockets. The company says today the “economy will be playing the biggest joke of all and South Africans will not be laughing this time round”. Among the strains South Africans are facing is the increase in the petrol levy, which comes into effect today, as does Eskom’s 9.4 percent tariff hike.
Read the full article published in IOL on 1 April 2016 at http://www.iol.co.za/business/news/aprils-fool-is-no-joke-2003809
It may soon become almost impossible for low-income households to tighten their belts any further, a development agency has warned. On top of a weakened rand and drought-induced food price hikes, the National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa) last week gave Eskom permission to hike electricity tariffs by 9.4% to recoup some of the billions it spent on diesel to operate open-cycle gas turbines to keep the lights on. The Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action (Pacsa) said the recent increase in state social grants would not lessen the pain for the poor.
Read the full article published in City Press on 18 March 2016 at http://city-press.news24.com/News/more-month-than-money-20160312
Listen to a podcast in which PACSA's Mervyn Abrahams is interviewed on radio PowerFM on the factors influencing the household affordability crisis at https://soundcloud.com/powerfm987/factors-that-might-influence-increased-cost-of-living-in-sa-1
Mail and Guardian, 01 Apr 2016
If the constitutional model that “we, the people” chose in 1996 is to survive, drastic moves are required to restore credibility to key public institutions, starting with the appointment of people committed to the core constitutional values of accountability, transparency, openness and independence. In the gloom, there is one bright light – the resurrection of a vigilant civil society and a public that can no longer claim to be ignorant of the dangers of “state capture”.
Read the article published in the Mail and Guardian at http://mg.co.za/article/2016-03-31-we-the-people-need-to-bring-integrity-back
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